I have a confession. This might not come as a surprise to some of you, but it’s been tough being a mother to three children under the age of five. Especially in the last few months as my baby has become more sensitive to noise and light, and as I’ve had to try to maintain perfect nap conditions for him while containing two energetic preschoolers in our one-story house, I’ve felt more like the ringmaster of a three-ring circus. In other words, I have felt like a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.When my husband comes home in the evenings, I am usually able to lightheartedly share him the anecdotes of what acts of rebellion or experiment gone wrong happened during the day. Usually I don’t have to illustrate too much as he has already begun to clean it up. Surviving these days, I could see the appeal of having a drink at 4:00 p.m. while in the middle of the combat zone and also understand why there was an alarming rate of alcohol and drug abuse amongst stay-at-home mothers. I told him about the books titled Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay and Naptime is the New Happy Hour, and how, unsurprisingly, the author revealed recently that she is an alcoholic.
Maybe this was a cry for help. We basically went from discussing the stresses of motherhood, especially now with this growing culture of extreme parenting, and how much more paranoid people are in America compared to in Germany (e.g., not letting your kids walk to school alone or not being allowed to let your kids play alone outside or run around naked). And wondering how people do it, that is parenting, without going crazy. We wondered what kind of support is available in Germany for exactly these matters. And I’m not just talking about the monetary help of Eltern- and Kindergeld (parenting and children’s allowance provided by the government).
Of course, the Germans have it all figured out. Shortly after the Second World War in 1950, Elly Heuss-Knapp, the wife of Germany’s first President, established the Müttergenesungswerk (translation: Mothers’ Recovery Center). She had the foresight to know that this generation of women, who were suddenly in the situation of raising their children as single mothers and were now the primary breadwinners, needed support in dealing with these now conventional situations and responsibilities, along with the tragedy of a husband/father’s death or the uncertainty of his return.
This social service organization has the insight to continue to address issues which most mothers are challenged by: not having enough time for themselves, not having time to take a pause and recharge one’s batteries or to take the time to finally get over a lingering illness. A common occurrence, as demonstrated by this aforementioned growing rate of alcoholism and drug abuse, is that mothers sometimes do not have the resources to handle the day-to-day stress of parenting in the most productive or efficient ways. I can attest from my own experiences on how sleep deprivation can instantly deprive me of a few layers of patience and tolerance as well as hinder some basic troubleshooting skills. One of my fundamental challenges is to enjoy the time I have with my children at home while I’m not working instead of feeling like I am in constant survival mode.
So how could the Müttergenesungswerk help? As you may know, Germans are into their Kur which are treatments at a health facility. The most common one I have heard about is the Mutter-Kind-Kur, when children join the mother in some time away. An arsenal of experts are ready to provide resources for the exhausted mother: physical therapist, medical doctor, social worker. These experts are on hand to provide treatment and advice. A friend of mine got to go away for three weeks with her sons when she learned that she had breast cancer while another acquaintance was able to take the same amount of time with her daughter when her husband suddenly died. More recently, a friend whose son was born with a severe kidney defect which requires frequent visits to the doctor, local hospital and university clinic in Tübingen (an hour and a half drive from her home), spent a month with her whole family at a Kur and came back restored. They were all so grateful for having a place to retreat to and finding a network that could assist them and their children in dealing with these tough times.
This wonderful resource is celebrating its 60th anniversary. Find out more here.